The First Minister has blasted the UK Government after receiving a late-night letter demanding that glass is removed from the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) if it is to go ahead.
Humza Yousaf revealed on Friday evening the letter from UK environment secretary Therese Coffey, Scottish secretary Alister Jack and minister for intergovernmental relations Michael Gove ‘demanded’ glass bottles were not part of the upcoming environmental scheme.
Earlier he said it would be a ‘democratic outrage’ if the UK Government only allowed the scheme to go ahead without the inclusion of glass.
Regulations passed by Holyrood mean glass bottles, as well as plastic bottles and drinks cans, are currently included in the Scottish Government’s proposed scheme.
As the initiative is to come into force in March 2024, significantly ahead of the 2025 start date planned for deposit return schemes in the rest of the UK, an exemption is needed from the UK Internal Market Act – which was brought in by Westminster to ensure smooth trade between the four nations of the UK in the wake of Brexit.
All but six of the 51 deposit return schemes operating elsewhere in the world include glass, the Scottish Government said.
Forcing Scotland to remove it from its scheme would mean recycling rates for glass bottles would remain at an “unacceptable” 63%, the Scottish Government added.
On Friday evening, the First Minister tweeted: “After spending the day briefing the press, UK Government sent us a letter at 9.45pm tonight.
“The letter demanding we remove glass from DRS, despite the Scottish Parliament voting for regulations which include glass in the scheme.
“That’s your respect agenda for you right there.”
On Saturday, a UK Government spokesperson said that the Scottish Government scheme has been granted a UK Internal Market (UKIM) exclusion “on a temporary and limited basis” to ensure the DRS aligns with others planned for the rest of the UK.
Currently, deposit return schemes planned for England and Northern Ireland do not include glass bottles.
The spokesperson said: “The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish Government reviewing and pausing their scheme earlier this year.
“We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish Government’s request for a UK Internal Market (UKIM) exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish Government’s scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK.”
The spokesperson added: “Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system.
“A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter – as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers.”
Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater, who is also the circular economy minister, hit out at the UK Government’s stance, branding the move a “utter disregard for devolution”.
She said: “Scottish ministers received the UK Government’s decision letter at 10pm on a Friday night, more than 12 hours after its contents being briefed to press. This is treating the Scottish Parliament with contempt.
“Despite discussions over the last two years this is an eleventh hour attempt by the UK Government to sabotage Scotland’s deposit return scheme by forcing us to remove glass bottles.
“This is at odds with all the evidence that says the biggest benefits, economically, financially and environmentally, are from including glass.”
Slater added: “We are now going to have to look very seriously at where this leaves the viability of the Scottish scheme and talk to businesses, delivery partners and other organisations over the coming days and weeks.”
The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) said the “only viable option now” was for a UK-wide initiative to be launched across all four nations in 2025.
Gavin Partington, of the BSDA, said its members had “long supported the introduction of an industry-led, interoperable DRS run on a not-for-profit basis to help support a circular economy, reducing litter and increasing recycling”.
He stated: “Our members have made significant investments of money, resource and time since 2019 to prepare for the launch of DRS Scotland.
“However, given the level of political uncertainty currently surrounding DRS Scotland, surely the only viable option now is for all stakeholders to commit to launching DRS across the UK on the same timeframe, October 2025.”